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THE 1950s:. “Conservatism, Complacency, and Contentment”. OR. “Anxiety, Alienation, and Social Unrest” ??. Essay prompt. The 1950s was a decade of social, cultural, and political conformity. Assess the validity of this statement . Election of 1952. Red = Eisenhower (R) 54.9 442

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THE 1950s:

“Conservatism, Complacency, and Contentment”


“Anxiety, Alienation, and

Social Unrest” ??

essay prompt
Essay prompt

The 1950s was a decade of social, cultural, and political conformity. Assess the validity of this statement.

election of 1952
Election of 1952

Red = Eisenhower (R) 54.9 442

Blue = Stevenson (D) 44.4 89

i like ike and vp richard nixon
I like Ike(and VP Richard Nixon)
  • War hero
  • Moderate
  • Pro-business
  • Expanded some social programs
    • Extended social security
    • Increased unemployment benefits
    • Increased minimum wage
    • Increased public housing

G.I. Bill

Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944


Baby Boom

  • Decrease in age at which people married
  • Increased number of children

1957  1 baby born every 7 seconds


Baby Boom

Dr. Benjamin Spock’s famous book reinforced stereotypical views of women.


The Baby boom led to increased school enrollment. College enrollment increased thanks to the GI Bill. After Sputnik (1957) the federal government increased its role in education and schools stressed math and science.


Levittown, Long Island “The American Dream”

Suburban Living

1949 William Levitt produced 150 houses per week.

$7,990 or $60/month with no down payment.


Suburban Living:The New “American Dream”

  • 1 story high
  • 12’x19’ living room
  • 2 bedrooms
  • tiled bathroom
  • garage
  • small backyard
  • front lawn

By 1960 almost 1/3 of the U. S. population in the suburbs. Mostly white.


Suburban Living



Central Cities 31.6% 32.3% 32.6% 32.0%

Suburbs 19.5% 23.8% 30.7% 41.6%

Rural Areas/ 48.9% 43.9% 36.7% 26.4%

Small Towns

U. S. Bureau of the Census.


Suburban Living:The Typical TV Suburban Families

TV reinforced consumerism and conformity.

The Donna Reed Show1958-1966

Leave It to Beaver1957-1963

Father Knows Best1954-1958

The Ozzie & Harriet Show1952-1966

the culture of the car
The Culture of the Car

Car registrations: 1945  25,000,000 1960  60,000,000

2-family cars doubled from 1951-1958

1958 Pink Cadillac

1959 Chevy Corvette

  • 1956 Interstate Highway Act largest public works project in American history!
      • Cost $32 billion.
      • 41,000 miles of new highways built.
the culture of the car1
The Culture of the Car

America became a more homogeneous nation because of the automobile.

First McDonald’s (1955)

Drive-In Movies

Howard Johnson’s

the culture of the car2
The Culture of the Car

The U. S. population was on the move in the 1950s.

NE & Mid-W  S & SW (“Sunbelt” states)

1955  Disneyland opened in Southern California. (40% of the guests came from outside California, most by car.)

Frontier Land

Main Street

Tomorrow Land

well defined gender roles
Well-Defined Gender Roles

The ideal modern woman married, cooked and cared for her family, and kept herself busy by joining the local PTA and leading a troop of Campfire Girls. She entertained guests in her family’s suburban house and worked out on the trampoline to keep her size 12 figure.-- Life magazine, 1956


The ideal 1950s man was the provider, protector, and the boss of the house. -- Life magazine, 1955

1956  William H. Whyte, Jr. The Organization Man

  • a middle-class, white suburban male is the ideal.


1950  Introduction of the first credit card - Diner’s Card

All babies were potential consumers who spearheaded a brand-new market for food, clothing, and shelter. -- Life Magazine (May, 1958)

general prosperity by the end of the 1950s
General prosperity by the end of the 1950s
  • 60% of American families owned homes
  • 75% of American households had cars
  • 87% of American households had at least 1 TV
  • GNP increased 50%

The US had the highest standard of living the world had ever seen.

  • Vastly increased government spending led to increased national debt.
  • Easy credit led to increased personal debt.
  • Some said increased use of petroleum and other fossil fuels contributed to global warming.
  • Environmental damage was done by pesticides that were used by commercial farmers
  • Corporate consolidation led to the end of many small businesses. (Even unions merged – AFL-CIO.)
  • More money was spent on advertising than education.
a changing workplace
A Changing Workplace


1947-1957  factory workers decreased by 4.3%, eliminating 1.5 million blue-collar jobs.

By 1956  more white-collar than blue-collar jobs in the U. S.

Computers Mark I (1944). First IBM mainframe computer (1951).

Corporate Consolidation:

By 1960  600 corporations (1/2% of all U. S. companies) accounted for 53% of total corporate income.

Cold War military build up – Military Industrial Complex

television popular shows
Television – popular shows

1946  7,000 TV sets in the U. S.1950  50,000,000 TV sets in the U. S.

  • I Love Lucy
  • The Honeymooners
  • Dragnet
  • The Twilight Zone
  • Superman
  • Gunsmoke
  • Howdy Doody Time
  • Lassie
  • Walt Disney
  • The Mickey Mouse Club
  • The Ed Sullivan Show
  • American Bandstand
  • You Bet Your Life
  • $64,000 Question
television portrayal of minorities
Television – portrayal of minorities

Amos and Andy


“Queen of the Kitchen”

Both shows faced criticism from the NAACP for their stereotypical depictions of Black life.

religious revival
Religious Revival

Today in the U. S., the Christian faith is back in the center of things. -- Time magazine, 1954

Church membership: 1940  64,000,000 1960  114,000,000

Television Preachers:

1. Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen “Life is Worth Living”

2. Methodist Minister Norman Vincent PealeThe Power of Positive Thinking

3. Reverend Billy Graham ecumenical message; warned against the evils of Communism.

religious revival1
Religious Revival

Hollywood: apex of the biblical epics.

The Robe The Ten Commandments Ben Hur1953 1956 1959

It’s un-American to be un-religious! -- The Christian Century, 1954


Evangelist Billy Graham

“under God” added to Pledge

“in God we trust” added to currency

teen culture
Teen Culture

In the 1950s  the word “teenager” entered the American language.

By 1956  13 mil. teens with $7 bil. to spend a year.

1951 J. D. Salinger’sA Catcher in the Rye

James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Marlon Brando inThe Wild One (1953)

the beats non conformists
The Beats – non conformists
  • Jack Kerouac On The Road (1957)
  • Allen Ginsberg  poem, “Howl” (1956)

A “Beatnik and a “Clean” Teen

rock n roll
Rock n Roll

Buddy Holly


Chuck Berry

Little Richard

the other america
The Other America

In his book Michael Harrington revealed that in 1962 25% of Americans lived in poverty. These “invisible poor” often lived in rural areas and inner cities while their wealthier counterparts lived in the suburbs

Cycle of poverty

african americans were largely left out of the american dream
African Americans were largely left out of the American dream

Published in 1952 Ellison’s book addressed the social and intellectual issues facing African Americans.

milestones for african americans
Milestones for African Americans
  • 1948 President Truman desegregated the military
  • 1948 Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers
  • 1954 In the Brown v. Board of Education case the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were inherently unequal.
  • 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott
  • 1957 President Eisenhower sent federal troops to protect the Little Rock 9 as they integrated Central High School in Arkansas.
election of 1960
Election of 1960

Sen. John F. Kennedy

VP Richard Nixon

Importance of the televised debate

election of 19601
Election of 1960

Red = Nixon (R) 49.5 219

Blue = Kennedy(D) 49.7 303

Yellow = Harry Byrd (D) 0 15

essay prompt1
Essay prompt

The 1950s was a decade of social, cultural, and political conformity. Assess the validity of this statement.